Sep 07 2017

Spruce Bruce

Male spruce grouse, Boot Cove, Maine (photo by Jim Honeth)

Male spruce grouse, Boot Cove, Maine (photo by Jim Honeth)

On Throw Back Thursday:

Remembering an encounter with a spruce grouse ...

Click here to read about Bruce the Fabulous


(photo by Jim Honeth)

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Sep 06 2017

Makes You Happy

Published by under Songbirds

Growing up in Switzerland Melanie Barboni had a dream:  She wanted to see a hummingbird.  When she arrived at UCLA three years ago as an Assistant Researcher in Earth, Planetary and Space Sciences, she placed a hummingbird feeder outside her office window. She now hosts more than 200 of these tiny jewels every day.

Melanie's relationship with the hummingbirds has grown so much that she now recognizes about 50 individuals and has given them names. And though her research involves volcanoes and rocks, her nickname is the "hummingbird whisperer."

Why watch hummingbirds?

As Melanie says, "I mean, look at them. It just makes you happy!"

Read the full story here on UCLA's website.


(video from UCLA on YouTube)

5 responses so far

Sep 05 2017

Leaves in Distress

Published by under Plants

Leaves in distress: defoliant (photo by Kate St.John)

Leaves in distress: defoliant (photo by Kate St.John)

Early in June I noticed curled leaves on all the trees and bushes by a road in my neighborhood.  Though I suspected it was caused by herbicide I was puzzled that other plants were not brown and dead.  Why would someone use an herbicide that maimed but didn't kill?  I forgot about it until I saw a photo of soybeans that looked the same way.

This summer, farmers from Arkansas to Ohio and North Dakota have experienced crop loss from a new formulation of the herbicide dicamba.  Dicamba has been used for a long time but this spring Monsanto, BASF and DuPont reformulated it for use with new genetically engineered dicamba-resistant soybeans.

The problem is this:  If your neighbor plants the new soybeans your fields could be affected.   The new dicamba volatilizes (evaporates) from the soil and leaves where it's applied and drifts as much as half a mile causing crop loss and low yield in everything else including non-resistant soybeans, tomatoes, watermelons, grapes, pumpkins and other vegetables.

At first affected farmers were reluctant to report a problem caused by their neighbors but crop losses have been so severe -- up to 80% -- that Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee placed restrictions on dicamba use this summer and many have asked EPA to reconsider its approval.

I'll never know if dicamba was used in my neighborhood but I know now that an herbicide can do this.

Leaves in distress in my neighborhood (photo by Kate St. John)

Leaves in distress in my neighborhood (photo by Kate St. John)

Meanwhile the leaves are still in distress.  I took these photos last week.


(photos by Kate St. John)

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Sep 04 2017

Learn From Working Birds

screenshot from PlantForAbundance

On Labor Day let's take a look at some working birds.

Chickens were first domesticated about 9,000 years ago in both China and India but the idea didn't really take off for another 2,000 to 4,000 years. Then it spread slowly westward to Persia (Iran), Egypt, Europe and Africa.  Chickens are now the most numerous bird species on Earth because humans like to eat them and their eggs.

Because of our close relationship to chickens we tend to forget that they are birds and we can learn from their behavior.

What does a hen do when she wants to lay an egg?  This video answers the question among a flock of free range chickens.

"What is my chicken telling me?"


(video by Plant Abundance on YouTube)

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Sep 03 2017

Velvet Red

Published by under Plants

Cardinal flower (photo by Kate St. John)

Cardinal flower (photo by Kate St. John)

Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) is such a deep red color that it looks like velvet.

From a distance you'll see this perennial along streambanks, in wet places and swamps. The plant is as much as four feet tall.

It blooms in late summer and early fall, just in time for migrating hummingbirds to sip its nectar on their way south.


(photo by Kate St. John)

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Sep 02 2017

Eclipse In Time

Published by under Weather & Sky

Composite of total solar eclipse in South Carolina, USA, 21 August 2017 (photo by Herm Donatelli)

Composite of total solar eclipse in South Carolina, USA, 21 August 2017 (photo by Herm Donatelli)


Blog reader Herm Donatelli traveled from Atlanta to South Carolina to witness the total solar eclipse on Monday August 21.

He equipped his camera with a filter so he wouldn't damage it.  "I unfortunately forgot to remove my solar filter during totality," he wrote, "and thus had no pictures of my own during that time. That's what makes the composite so realistic!"

Here's his rendering of the eclipse in time.


(composite eclipse photo by Herm Donatelli)




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Sep 01 2017

Thank A Vulture

Published by under Birds of Prey

Turkey vulture (photo by Chuck Tague)

Turkey vulture (photo by Chuck Tague)

Have you ever smelled a dead animal rotting in the summer heat?  Even if you don't know where the smell is located you give it a wide berth.

Humans eat dead things but we can't eat spoiled dead things.  In the 200,000 years of our species existence those who were not repulsed by or could not smell rotting food did not live long.  Refusing to touch spoiled meat is a life-saving trait.

Sadly vultures get a bad name for removing the very things we can't afford to touch.  "Eeeww," we think, "that bird is eating something vile."  But it's actually a good thing that they do this.

Vultures are nature's clean up crew. They can safely eat rabid and anthrax-infected carcasses because their stomach acids kill the deadly toxins, removing them from the environment.

What would happen if there weren't any vultures?  India knows what it's like.

99.9% of the vultures in India, Pakistan and Nepal died off in the last 25 years due to diclofenac, a painkiller given to cattle that’s deadly to vultures.  Since then rotting carcasses have infected drinking water and the rat and wild dog populations have soared.  However, unlike vultures the mammal scavengers contract rabies, anthrax and plague from the carcasses they eat and then spread the diseases to humans.  30,000 people now die of rabies in India each year.

Thankfully our vultures are alive and well in North America and tomorrow's a good day to learn about them.  Saturday Sept 2, 2017 is International Vulture Awareness Day.

Logo of International Vulture Awareness Day 2017

Click this link for a list of activities planned around the world including a celebration hosted by the Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia at Coopers Rock State Forest in West Virginia.  Stop by the parking lot/pavilions near the Gift shop to join the fun.

Thank a vulture this weekend!


(photo by Chuck Tague)


6 responses so far

Aug 31 2017

How Do You Know It’s A Moth?

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Antennae of an Agreeable Tiger Moth (photo by Chuck Tague)

Antennae of an Agreeable Tiger Moth (photo by Chuck Tague)

What's the difference between a moth and a butterfly?

The best clue is their antennae.

Moths have feather-like antennae with many branches.  Butterflies have smooth antennae with a knob at the end.

The feathery antennae above are on an Agreeable Tiger Moth photographed by Chuck Tague.  Yes, the moth is agreeing to have his picture taken and yes, that's really his name!  Agreeable Tiger Moth (Spilosoma congrua).

The knobs on the antenna below are on a Pearl Cresent butterfly (Phyciodes tharos).

Pearlcresent butterfly (photo by Kate St. John)

Pearlcresent butterfly (photo by Kate St. John)


For more differences between moths and butterflies see this vintage article from August 2010:  How Do You Know It's a Moth


(photo of Agreeable Tiger Moth by Chuck Tague. photo of Pearl Crescent Butterfly by Kate St. John)

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Aug 30 2017

Pitt Peregrines’ Granddaughter in Ontario

Published by under Peregrines

Thanks to Kathy Majich, I learned last month that a Pitt peregrine granddaughter is nesting in Ontario, Canada.

Dorothy and Erie were the first peregrine falcon pair at the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning(*).  Their 2003 brood was especially successful because three of those four chicks went on to nest elsewhere.  One of them, Belle, nested at the University of Toledo until 2014.

During the 2014 nesting season, Belle was challenged by an intruder yet she successfully raised two chicks despite her injuries.  After the chicks were banded and fledged, Belle disappeared and the intruder took over.  Belle's mate, Allen, coached the youngsters to independence.

This year we're happy to discover that one of those chicks, Dr. Jane, was identified this spring in St. Marys, Ontario raising her own two chicks with her mate Cosmo.

(click on "View larger" so see Pittsburgh on the map.)


So Dorothy and Erie's legacy continues with a granddaughter and great-grands in Ontario.

Click on the image above to read about "Dr. Jane" at the Canadian Peregrine Foundation's Facebook page.  Click here to read about the peregrine family in St. Mary's Stratford Beacon Herald.


(photo linked from Canadian Peregrine Foundation Facebook page. Map showing St. Mary's, Ontario linked from Google maps)

(*) Note: Dorothy hatched in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1999 and was present at the Cathedral of Learning from 2001 through 2015.  Erie hatched in Columbus, Ohio in 1998 and was present at Pitt from 2001 through 2007. Erie was followed by E2.


6 responses so far

Aug 29 2017

Green Eggs On Nettle

Green eggs on stinging nettle leaves (photo by Kate St.John)

Green eggs on stinging nettle leaves (photo by Kate St.John)

Today, a quiz.

I found green eggs on stinging nettle on August 9 at Wolf Creek Narrows, Butler County, PA.

Are they eggs or something else?

And who laid them?

Post a comment with your answer.

I'll reveal their identity later today.


THE ANSWER:  29 August, 3:15pm
This was a tricky quiz because the structures really do look like eggs. I thought they were butterfly eggs but they are too smooth. The likely butterflies lay very wrinkled eggs.  For instance, click here to see the eggs of the small tortoiseshell butterfly.

Mary Ann Pike correctly identified the green "eggs" as nettle galls of (probably) Dasineura investita.  The galls are the plant's defenses against the larvae inside them.  The larvae are from midges so tiny that I can't find photographs of the adult insects though these three photos may give you an idea.

Caterpillars of the Sordid Hypena moth (Hypena sordidula) eat these galls.  Click here to see it.


(photo by Kate St. John)

7 responses so far

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